Electronic efficiency is all the rage

By Bu Jack Markowitz

Dec 5, 2013

http://triblive.com/business/jackmarkowitz/5166468-74/ebetweening-electronic-job

Let's coin a phrase here and call it electronic “betweening.” Jazzier yet: “eBetweening.” It's a phenomenon of our age, hugely significant for how we do business and fill jobs.

Cyber Monday brought the latest proof. Sales jumped 20-odd percent from a year ago; 130 million or more Americans shopped online by computer, smartphone or handheld tablet. By contrast, in-store sales on Black Friday dropped nearly 3 percent. Nobody sees that trend quitting.

It's the power of eBetweening, when something electronic gets between you and what you want done, to help of course. Cyber shopping avoids traffic, saves time, even cuts pollution (from car engines). But something's lost, and not only the state sales taxes that have become a national issue.

EBetweening takes many forms. Telecommuting is one. Millions can work at home or in coffee shops from laptops instead of going to offices.

A lover of books no longer has to lug home the physical 500-pager from the bookstore or library. Entire texts download in seconds to a lightweight reader-screen. No wonder the publishing and bookselling markets are in flux.

The daily newspaper might not survive as a paper-and-ink manifestation. There's too much news in a newspaper for consumers in a hurry. They want just the news that interests them and can get it free, in most cases, by eBetweening to websites and blogs.

An autopilot lets instruments fly a plane when all is humdrum above the clouds. But there's official concern that human pilots might allow their guard to slip too much in the comfort of airborne eBetweening. Driverless cars are possible someday.

So it goes — eBetweening changes the rules in industry after industry, job after job.

Instead of writing letters, we email and the Postal Service loses billions. School systems consider ending instruction in cursive handwriting.

Auto plants use robots to weld spots that union workers once joined. Doctors treat patients without meeting them, thanks to cyber images and computer readings. People book hotel rooms and airline tickets online, and travel agents apply for unemployment.

If public schools fail to reach too many children, cyberschools might not. Gifted teachers on a computer screen might train a job-ready generation while slashing school payrolls and taxes.

True, there's something lost when human contact is cut between live student and live teacher. Likewise between the online shopper and a flesh-and-blood salesperson working counters piled high with goods that one can lift, feel and try on.

Yet the overall efficiencies are irresistible.

Only one demographic resists: The older folks, say 60 and up. In general it's harder to get anything that has to do with computers the more the years pile up. Take banking online. Your typical oldster wants to write a check, stick it in a stamped envelope and deduct the amount from the bank book balance. The last paper bank account, if it ever comes to that, surely will be held by somebody up in years.

Just as he or she will want to handle merchandise, talk to a salesperson, pick up a newspaper from a doorstep, and think of a job as something to which a worker goes.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..